Welcome!

XML Authors: Carmen Gonzalez, Ignacio M. Llorente, David Dossot, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: SDN Journal, Java, XML, SOA & WOA, Virtualization, Cloud Expo

SDN Journal: Article

Software Defined Networking – A Paradigm Shift

Now it's all about orchestrated service delivery

The networking industry has gone through different waves over last 30+ years. In the '80s, the first wave was all about connecting and sharing; how to connect a computer to other peripheral devices and other computers. There were many players who developed technology and services to address that, e.g. Novell, 3Com, Sun, IBM, DEC, Nortel. Across the industry, small islands of various protocols were created with multiple gateways to bridge them.

In 90's and 00's, Cisco dominated the industry and did a brilliant job of pushing the industry towards a common approach built on Ethernet.  They built a hugely successful business and ecosystem and even created new markets like VoIP on the proposition that networking should be on a common highway. We also saw isolation of networks from the rest of the IT infrastructure, in the sense that software innovations continued in the server and storage environments independent of the network area. The focus also remained on different components of the infrastructure and not on the ‘service' delivered by the combination of those infrastructure components, i.e., server, storage and network.

Now, it is all about orchestrated service delivery which requires standards-based open approach. According to Gartner reports on Emerging Technology Analysis and Key Issues for Communications Strategies, a) over 50% workloads will be virtualized by the end of 2012 thanks to Cloud computing, and b) more than 80% of traffic will be server-to-server by 2014 due to federated applications and virtualization.

In this article, I attempt to highlight why we have reached limits of current network technology, how Software Defined Networking will lead the next wave of innovations and its benefits to the IT industry. Today, network elements like switches and routers have resident software in each box. The software in the box provides intelligence using distributed algorithms to decide how each packet should be handled by it. In order for the entire network to function properly, the software in each box must work in coordination with other boxes.  This approach has served us well so far.

The coordinated distributed algorithms however make it difficult to introduce a change on the fly. We have to reconfigure the embedded software on all network components (often called boxes) to implement any change.  On the other hand, the wave of virtualization demands flexible, adaptive and nimble networks. This wave exposes limitations of the current networking approach, which is inflexible and protocol-heavy. As distributed algorithms are used, not one box has a global view of the network. This results in over provisioning at the time of designing and guess-work while trouble-shooting. For large cloud deployments, compute and storage environments can be virtualized and consumed easily but because of the limitations of networks, its full potential is not realized.

Typically, a network administrator spends a lot of time planning and then configuring the network components with changing business requirements and varying network traffic. Network administrators learn a lot by trial and error and the resulting expertise based on experience is limited to the experienced few.

OpenFlow History
Research students at Stanford, Berkley and other universities found it hard to experiment with their networks because the software is embedded in each switch or a router and any change has to be coordinated between vendors to make the distributed algorithms interoperable to provide the functionality they needed for research & experimentation. It is with this simple objective that the idea of OpenFlow was born. The first step that these researchers took was to develop ability to program switches, from a remote controller. The OpenFlow protocol was developed to support communication between a switch and a controller. It allows external control software to control the data path of a switch, bypassing traditional L2 and L3 protocols and associated configurations. OpenFlow protocol defines messages, such as packet-received, send-packet-out, modify-forwarding-table, and get-stats. The researchers added OpenFlow support to existing boxes and allowed OpenFlow controller to program part of Flow-Table entries for research and experimentation while rest of the box worked as before. This gave them control over switches from a controller running on a remote industry standard server. This was the start of OpenFlow which basically separated the physical or data layer from the control layer.

ONF Background
OpenFlow and SDN became quite popular in the research community and several service providers and some vendors started to see the value of this approach. Researchers from Stanford and Berkeley took the lead but Open Networking Foundation (ONF) was founded by leading providers (Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Facebook, Deutsche Telecom, and Verizon). Some vendors, like HP, expressed their support from the beginning. ONF is the body which defines, standardizes and enhances OpenFlow protocol. ONF has a bigger charter with SDN that goes beyond OpenFlow protocol. It promotes SDN and may standardize different parts of SDN. As a policy, vendors cannot join its board but can become members of ONF and lead some working groups. Vendors have influence over the emerging standard though they don't set the overall agenda and they don't make final decisions on what is standardized and what is not.

Another interesting point is that ONF wants to do as little standardization as possible to encourage creativity. At first it sounded a bit conflicting but ONF looks at the software industry and tries to follow it by taking its best practices. When you look at the software industry, there are fewer standards than the network industry and it has created more innovations and jobs than the network industry. The Network industry has too many protocols defined and standardized, resulting in more complexity and fewer innovations. Academicians are influencing ONF and ensuring that we don't end up with another rigid, inflexible and protocol heavy networking world. ONF has 66 members today and its membership costs $30k/year. This is relatively high compared to other such bodies and the reason could be to ensure that only genuinely interested parties become members. We know that breakthrough innovations would come from small start-ups, some of whom would find it difficult to spend so much for the annual membership.  On the other hand, ONF ensures that the development made as part of their body is made available to all members at no charge or royalty etc. One would end up spending more than $30k in lawyer's fees to get the royalty arrangements sorted out.

Early Adopters
Google, Amazon, Rackspace, etc., have already implemented OpenFlow based networks, using proprietary hardware and in-house developed software. We see many new start-up focused on this new area to develop applications that leverage virtualized network. Most cloud providers manage huge data centers. "Every day Amazon Web Services (AWS) adds enough new capacity to support all of Amazon.com's global infrastructure through the company's first 5 years, when it was a $2.76 billion annual revenue enterprise" according to Jim Hamilton, their VP at large.

Google embraced OpenFlow very early on. Google's inter-datacenter production network, largest in the world by traffic, runs on OpenFlow and SDN. Google proved that OpenFlow based networks can scale and deliver its promise. The biggest use case, according to Google, for Central controllers is the fact that we can do re-routing, anticipating an event, e.g. if we know that we are introducing a new service which will lead to traffic load, we can pre-provision network in a way to best optimize infrastructure resources. If a small business, say a Flower shop, expects more traffic and compute power on a Valentine day, it is easy to have compute and storage power made available with standard virtualization technology available today. But to make network resources available on demand is challenging. This is where an OpenFlow controller controlling switches can easily provide necessary bandwidth and then tear it down or redirect the network resources for other requests. Google example is impressive but one could argue that how many enterprise customers could afford or dare to do what Google can do. Moreover, just because it made a business case for Google does not mean that it can make a business case for everyone. Each customer will have to evaluate their network, future growth requirements etc and see if there is a positive business case.

Flexibility Galore
Software Defined Networking (SDN) can help you make the network ready for Cloud-bursting as and when required. SDN opens up many possibilities. For example;

  1. Packet Flow redirection: There is a lot of video traffic coming from sources we trust. Security services on such traffic are not required for some applications. As security services are extremely infrastructure-hungry and CPU-intensive, passing all data to it leads to a sprawl of security devices (many IDS/ IPS, DPI appliances) to monitor traffic. With OpenFlow we can easily redirect traffic away from the costly resources for trusted traffic.
  2. Policy Management: Because you now have global view of the network and can control the network with software running on OpenFlow controller, defining and implementing business policies become easier, e.g. better bandwidth management: In case of excess traffic which is not anticipated, the controller can make sure to program the network in such a way that higher priority business traffic is given more resources than low priority traffic.
  3. Virtual Application Network: The OpenFlow controller lets us create virtual networks for different applications on one physical network, such that different applications can have different bandwidth and QoS based on their requirements, with auditable network isolation between applications and simpler compliance (a requirement for the financial industry). One can provide each customer a separate virtual domain for them to manage
  4. Network Security: OpenFlow can be used to make networks more secure and agile. The OpenFlow controller allows us to monitor and manage network security and
    -Dynamically insert security services at any point in the network (on-demand firewall or IDS/IPS, for example)
    -Monitor traffic and re-direct suspect flows for full inspection
    -Combine per-flow QoS control with network management systems to leverage traffic and end-user identity information
    -Dynamically detect and mitigate attacks due to infected PCs by using  signature/reputation database to create rules that address specific attacks
  5. Proprietary Appliances: It is very common today to deploy appliances in the network to deliver specific functionalities. These proprietary appliances can be replaced with an OpenFlow controller and a software application delivering the specific functionality. Communication Service Providers have a significant number of network services that can take advantage of virtualization and industry standard servers. Many application specific appliances that are running on custom ASIC (WAN optimization, Firewalls, DPI, SPAM/MAIL appliances, IDS etc) are good candidates for the SDN approach.
  6. As SDN matures, a couple of years down the road, more futuristic use case is to monitor traffic patterns, generate intelligence and then use the intelligence to anticipate traffic patterns and  optimize available resources. Using this kind of intelligence, we can actually reduce power consumption, too. For example, if we know the usage of the network is less during the nights and early mornings, we can shut off parts of the network in such a way that we still get complete connectivity, yet not have the complete network up.

My Take
The list of use cases is growing on a daily basis and will continue to grow even faster as the pace of innovation increases. The number of new start-ups in this area is increasing rapidly. Finally, the networking field, which has been quite dull from the perspective of new innovations, is going to be more vibrant and exciting with new possibilities. Moreover, if ONF is successful in maintaining ‘Open standards', SDN will allow plug and play with multivendor products, empowering IT and Network operators to be more cost-effective and adaptive to agility requirements of a business. We will see that with SDN, the network industry will mirror the innovations and developments seen in the server and storage fields.

Some vendors want to have API's well-defined for applications to leverage OpenFlow controllers or have more protocols supported. It is prudent on the part of ONF not to define and standardize too much and let the market define what an acceptable standard is. It is important to keep OpenFlow protocol unrestricted by defining and standardizing not more than what is absolutely required. This will fuel innovations.

OpenFlow protocol is in its infancy but it has generated tremendous interest from customers, researchers as well as vendors. One can argue that it is not fully matured or ready for prime time but most agree that it will change the network industry fundamentally. It will make the industry more flexible, nimble and drive more innovations. This train has left the station while some debate that its destination is not well-defined or its ETA is not known. The hardware vendors will have to accept the fact that networking hardware will be commoditized just like servers and storage. OpenFlow/SDN, for sure, opens up opportunities for different network based applications. This is where current vendors will have to focus on to continue to play a major role in the future. Network administrators will not be spending hours reconfiguring switches and routers. They will have to get skilled on how to control, manage, test and implement changes from a central controller.

Although the OpenFlow protocol is defined, there are not many vendors in the market supporting its latest version 1.3. Moreover, there is a lack of tools to test, monitor and manage this new environment. HP and other major vendors have openly embraced OpenFlow and are investing in it. HP was one of the first major network vendors to invest in this area, with 60+ deployments of 16 different switches supporting OpenFlow. HP is also leading one of the task forces of ONF to evolve the OpenFlow protocol. With its traditional strength in IT performance & operations (test, monitor and manage) management and telecom OSS, HP is well-positioned to deliver a complete future-proof infrastructure solution, (consisting of server, storage, networking, software, security and analytics) for enterprise IT as well as telecom service providers.

More Stories By Kapil Raval

Kapil Raval is an experienced technology solutions consultant with nearly 20 years of experience in the telecom industry. He thinks ‘the business’ and focuses on linking business challenges to technology solutions. He currently works for HP and drives strategic solutions in the telecom vertical.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.